Members of the Panora Chamber gather to network.


Learn how local organizations are working to grow the business community. 

By Rich Wicks | Panora Times

Commerce is defined as a system of activities, functions, procedures and institutions that contribute to the distribution and transfer of goods and services at the right time, place, quantity, quality and price through various channels from the original producers to the final consumers.

Those are a lot of words for something as basic as putting buyers and sellers together, but nobody said running a business was easy. And although making that connection is the primary goal for most local businesses organizations, the folks behind the scenes find themselves doing much more both individually and with other groups to continually improve the business community. 


Panora Chamber of Commerce

The Panora Chamber of Commerce puts on the annual Easter Egg Hunt as one of its many activities.

The Panora Chamber of Commerce has been in existence for many decades. The Chamber has one paid, part-time employee, Director Erica Matthies. There are five volunteer officers: Gayle Shackelford (president), Angie Worth (vice president), Dave Grove (second vice president), Jamie Waddle (treasurer) and Sonya Pierce (secretary).

Shackelford, who has served on the Chamber for more than 20 years, explained her role, as well as Matthies’ role.

“I run the meetings and am part of the committees. Erica is the organizer, and she is really working hard on the social media and webpage,” Shackelford said.

Shackelford provided a summary of the Chamber’s efforts and goals.

“We are here to help facilitate the businesses and promote Panora. We work hand in hand with the businesses,” Shackelford said. “We try to advertise their names as much as possible so that people will use their services and shop local, to keep our community strong.”

The Chamber currently has a total of roughly 100 members, which includes both individuals and businesses/organizations. Shackelford said the Chamber is continually seeking new members. The annual membership cost is $25 for an individual, $75 for a church or club, $150 for businesses with up to five employees, and $300 for larger businesses.

Matthies and Shackelford stressed that, although the Chamber holds monthly member meetings, there is no requirement for attendance. However, they agreed that one of the benefits of attendance is the opportunity to network with other members. 

The Panora Chamber’s biggest annual event is Panorama Days in August. A committee of Chamber members help plan and coordinate the event. The Chamber also has roughly a dozen other committees that help with various events or year-round programs. Shackelford said help is always welcomed from any sources.

“Anyone can be involved in the Chamber. We welcome individuals, too. And even if you’re not a part of the Chamber, if you’d like to come and help with any of the events, we can always use extra help,” Shackelford said.

Matthies explained that one of her goals is to fully integrate the Panora Chamber’s website and social media presences, since this is an expectation of the new generation of business owners and customers.

“If we don’t embrace it and speak their language, they will find another community that will,” said Matthies.

Some of the upcoming Panora Chamber events include the golf tournament on May 5 at Lake Panorama National Golf Course, Market to Market on May 11, Art in the Village on June 1, Bacoon Ride on June 15, Sidewalk Sales on July 5-6, and Panorama Days Aug. 2-4.

Shackelford pointed out the Chamber also gives out scholarships to local students and holds the “Citizen of the Year” program annually.

Matthies listed the three main goals of the Chamber for 2024. 

“We want to get a sound system for Main Street, to help with parades and things like that,” said Matthies. “We are looking at updating or sprucing up our town entrance signs, and, lastly, to maintain Panorama Days as a free event.”


Panora and Lake Panorama Economic Development Group

Members of the Panora and Lake Panorama Economic Development group meet with Des Moines Partnership group members in Panora in September of 2023.

Maggie Armstrong is the president of the Panora/Lake Panorama Economic Development Group (formerly known as PRIDE). She shared information about the group and its function.

“Our members pool economic development issues and ideas together in the Panora area. The group promotes existing businesses and helps identify and meet economic development needs, such as connecting new-to-the-area businesses with available space, assisting with external building improvements through a revolving fund loan program, promoting increased available housing in Panora, and partnering with other economic development influencers like Midwest Partnership and the Des Moines Partnership,” Armstrong said. 

The group’s funding comes from a mix of membership dues, grant funding and corporate donations. Currently, there are approximately 40 active members and three membership levels. Individual memberships cost $100, while small businesses are $150 and large businesses are $500. Armstrong pointed out that membership does not entail an excessive meeting schedule. 

“Our group meets once a month to connect on business updates and discuss new opportunities or developments,” she said. “We are always looking for new members and ideas. The best work doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and more perspectives and lived experiences help communities thrive.”

Regarding the goals of the group, Armstrong stressed partnership.

“This is a community-based organization with an overall goal to connect business leaders with opportunities for success as well as identify and provide support for new and existing economic development projects,” said Armstrong. “We work closely with our area school, city and county government as well as housing authorities and other economic development groups. In essence, we strive to help sustainable, development-driven projects overcome hurdles for the betterment of our community.” 

 Asked about success stories, Armstrong had a ready answer.

“We’ve helped a good number of local business owners along Main Street in Panora improve and upgrade their business façade through our revolving loan program,” said Armstrong. “We donated the ground to the soccer fields on the north side of Panora, purchased residential property on the east side of Panora to develop newer, accessible housing. We acquired property along Highway 4 and Highway 44 to repurpose for new commercial or residential living.”

 Looking to the future, Armstrong knows change is inevitable.

“Development is a sustained effort with a long-time horizon. Often, the needs of a community in one decade are different than the needs of the previous decade or the coming decade,” said Armstrong. “We envision continuing to assess and adapt to the needs of the community and then promote solutions to those needs as best we can.”


Midwest Partnership Economic Development 

Brenda Dudley and Kayla Willms of Midwest Partnership.

The office of Midwest Partnership is located in Stuart, and it houses Executive Director Brenda Dudley, as well as Kayla Willms, who serves as the administrative and communications coordinator.

“I’ve been in my position for one year,” said Dudley. “Midwest Partnership is economic development for Adair and Guthrie counties. We work with both counties, trying to increase the tax base. Anything that deals with trying to bring businesses in, keep existing businesses here, and housing, workforce, daycare, and tourism.”

Dudley said the bulk of Midwest Partnership’s funding is from memberships. 

“The counties both contribute, a lot of the cities contribute, and we have a lot of business memberships, too,” Dudley said.

She works to stay in touch with the local communities throughout Guthrie County by attending local governmental meetings (city councils, board of supervisors, etc.) to hear what is needed in the area and to offer supports as appropriate.

“I feel like, when we attend meetings, we always share what we’re working on. It’s a good chance just to listen. I look for things like if someone is struggling with their business,” Dudley said.

Midwest Partnership has a robust Facebook page, showing past and upcoming events of interest to local businesses, such as job postings, job fairs, grant and loan opportunities, and educational/networking events.

Dudley explained that loans are one of the most significant ways that Midwest Partnership can help new businesses.

“When businesses start up, it’s hard to get grants for small businesses, because they’re more for the nonprofits. But the revolving loan funds are great for start-up businesses,” she said.

A revolving loan fund is generally in addition to a traditional bank loan, as Dudley explained. 

 “They need to go to a bank, and if they need $100,000, but the bank is only able to give them $50,000, then they can go to the revolving loan fund for the extra,” said Dudley.

Dudley told of recently helping an established business by coordinating a mentorship through the SCORE organization (Service Corps of Retired Executives) so the mentor could help the mentee in areas of need.

Another offering through Midwest Partnership is Biz Connect. Dudley explained that the program isn’t new, but the name has changed.

“Years ago, it was the Entre-Bash. Some business owners didn’t come because they didn’t consider themselves entrepreneurs,” Dudley said. “So, we changed the name to the Biz Connect.” 

Biz Connect events offer educational and networking sessions for any type of business. There are sessions focused on legal issues, IT, marketing and advertising, benefits, Human Resources and financial matters. 

The most recent Biz Connect event was free and was held April 4 at the Adair Community Center. 

An upcoming event promoted by Midwest Partnership is the Empower Her Summit on Wednesday, April 24, 6-8 p.m. in Stuart. The event’s tagline is “Unveiling Opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs.”

Dudley explained there are many other ways she can help the communities in Guthrie and Adair counties. For example, she recently helped Bayard by posting two lots that are for sale in Bayard on LOIS (Location One Information System). 

Midwest Partnership also tracks data and trends for local businesses.

“Another thing we do is called BRE interviews, which stands for Business Retention and Expansion. They used to be required by the state,” said Dudley. “They give me a list of bigger companies in the two-county area. We go in and ask a lot of questions about what’s going well and what’s not going well, how is the community…just a whole lot of questions that we ask to try to figure how the businesses are doing and how we can help them.”

Dudley said she also focuses on areas that indirectly impact the business environment. 

“Every community in Iowa, and I think the country, is struggling with daycare, workforce and housing,” said Dudley. “Those are the big things.”

Dudley and Willms encourage anyone wanting more information to check out the Midwest Partnership Facebook page or to call or come visit them.

Over the course of her year at Midwest Partnership, Dudley has gradually gotten busier. 

“Now, as time goes on, I do get a lot of calls,” she said. “I think the word is getting out about what we do, and when you build those relationships, people trust you, and they start knocking on your door.”